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Learning Maya 5: Dynamics

Learning Maya 5: Dynamics
Creativecow.net Book Review


Learning Maya 5: Dynamics


John David Hutton
mYth productions
Kansas City, Kansas, USA

©2004 John David Hutton and Creativecow.net. All rights are reserved.

Article Focus:
CreativeCOW leader John David Hutton takes a thorough look at Learning Maya 5 | Dynamics from Sybex and concludes with... ''this is definitely a worthwhile book for any Maya artist interested in learning dynamics."

I did like this book and while I start with mostly criticisms, I do think this is a worthwhile book for any Maya artist interested in learning dynamics. It –will- help. After reading my first Sybex Maya book, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy another.

With that aside, you'll notice more criticisms than compliments. This is due to one of my own faults. I'm simply not mindful of writing down things I like. So while you'll see an array of advice and criticisms, I hope that won't reflect poorly. I'm usually in the mindset of helping and since I like to back up criticisms I tend to mostly write down things I don't like. This book –does- have a lot of positives I liked and hopefully I'll remember to mention a small fraction of them.

While working through this book I found myself both impressed by the brevity of the writing / tutorials and resentful for the lack of design, personality, and attention to detail.

With any criticism I like to cite specifics:
  • Design – B& W book containing tutorials with a simple paragraph in picture style (pardon my hypocritical statement since most of my reviews / tutorials on the cow are also of this method … :-P ). You can tell some “tech heads” wrote this book with little concern or desire to make it more interesting on the eyes (no graphics, no dressing). When you look at this book and look at one of the After Effects books by Trish & Chris Meyer, they’re nearly exact opposites. Both contain valuable information but if you put them side-by-side it's clear to me which most would pick up first, just because of the design.
  • Personality – Most of the points in design also pertain to personality. I would go further in stating that concise directions were seemingly more important than devoting a bit of extra clarification and personality. By personality I mean humor, quirky anecdotes or stories about Maya experiences, etc. When I read this book I imagined the authors cranking out a wonderful piece of prose and then getting clobbered by a ruthless menagerie of proofing pirates slashing every piece of information not immediately relevant to the topic at hand. Someone (or some people) involved with this book need to have a few hundred drinks and loosen up.
  • Attention to detail – At the bottom I give specifics on some things I felt frustrated about. Nearly all of them relate to two central themes – lack of information and incorrect filenames on the accompanying CD. Open file “chapter_10.mb” says the book when the CD actually contains the file “soft_bodies_and_springs.mb.” This book is littered with very minor but annoying foul ups such as this. No big deal in the grand scheme of things but when you're trying to wrap your head around Maya every extra piece of thought can seem taxing.


Like most good books nowadays the accompanying CD contains movie files where the author or other such teacher takes us through a tutorial. This is such a great practice and I hope all books will adopt this. Unfortunately they chose on quicktime format (I'm assuming for compatibility between platforms) and apparently didn't have the latitude to make them high resolution enough to see very clearly. If the authors of this book compare their movie files with those from Jim Lammer’s Maya fundamentals (who used windows media files) they'll have one wicked rude awakening. Jim’s movies are so clear you'd think they were a part of your desktop, where these quicktimes look as though they were run through some sort of scan converter and re-digitized. I was confused and perplexed to see the quality of these movies. In a program like Maya with umpteen windows and many menus, clarity is frighteningly important.

While I trash the quality of these movies, they –do- add quite a bit to the book and I'm glad the authors chose to include them. In fact, the content of the videos surpasses many of my favorite books/CDs in that the material COMPLEMENTS the book, instead of regurgitating it. This is so invaluable to the value of the book and it's MUCH harder to do from the author’s perspective. Many companies don't go for this because it takes more time and more effort (i.e. Costs them more to produce) and is harder to get across to the customer how valuable the CD is because after all, everyone is offering a CD with a book nowadays, even if it just contains advertisements. Anyway, great job on the content, way to go guys! Perhaps offering a windows media version and quicktime mac version may be the better way to go. You do have good content, it's very sad the easiest and quickest mistake to correct (compression) was the one that nearly ruined it.

Files on CD are arranged in an un-intuitive way. Folders within the "Scenes" folder should be numbered by chapter to make them more easily findable, although a hidden benefit of having to find the folder is that you're forced to think about what you're learning. Regardless, look at the Meyer’s books on what nomenclature they used on their CD and follow suit. Just a suggestion.

In some chapters, particularly in the last half of the book, the book says to open scene files that either aren't there or named different than what the book says to look for. I know I already mentioned this above but it was so bad I thought I'd reiterate it. Whoever was in charge of this job seemed to drop the ball late in the project, assuming they designed this in a linear (front to back) way. Remember, those reading your books are most likely not experienced in Maya. Mistakes such as this distract from the lesson and frustrate newbies. I find it ironic that a book as concise as this contains a CD that was obviously made and checked by someone else (or not at all). Somebody didn't communicate.

ADVICE TO READERS:

  • Go through book first, then redo with quicktime files to clear up any confusion you may have had. As stated above, the included movies complement the book and while it was twice as much work to go through the CD, the amount learning is nearly twice as much! Don't ignore the CD and don't ignore the book either!
  • The more experience you have with Maya, the less trouble you'll have with understanding this book's topic. What I mean is that if you're a newbie to dynamics, expect to have to think more and be hand-held less. This may or may not be your preferred method of learning. Everyone has their own preferences.





SUMMARY

A slim, concise book with tons of useful information and a great accompanying CD. This book offers invaluable and rare help on a topic that's mysterious to many Maya artists. It can be greatly improved by design, CD and book cohesion (filenames mostly), and some good old-fashioned color, illustrations, life experiences, tips and tricks (more traps!), and better-quality movie files.

I give this book 4 cows because overall, it's above average, but not terrific.





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